A hookah/hookah pipe, is also known as a qalyan, arghila, narghile, waterpipe or shisha. It can be a single instrument or multi stemmed instrument where flavored tobacco, which is often called shisha, is heated and smoked. The smoke passes through the water vase, which is often made of glass, and then it is inhaled.
The hookah has a very old history. It was first used in the Persian empire during the Safavid dynasty. Its use then expanded into India, and from there it soon made its way to Egypt and during the Ottoman dynasty, it reached the Levsant. It was here that it became really popular and it is here where the hookah pipe would become perfected.
Hookah use didn’t end there, reaching every corner of the globe and in more recent times North America. The word hookah actually comes from the Arabian word huqqa. The movement of the hookah to other parts of the world began with Levant immigrants who introduced it to other countries, where younger people found it a pleasant and enjoyable pastime.
There is a great deal of disagreement as to whether the original hookah was found in Persia, Syria, India, Turkey, Iran, or Egypt. It is likely that way back then, there was some form of the pipe, which as ancient trade routes opened up began to take a more formal form.
The First Documented Waterpipe – 1600s
According to British Physician Crack Elgood, who was an honorary physician to the Persian King a physician by the name of Irfan Shaikh was the inventor of the idea. Shaikh was at the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great (1542 - 1605 AD). A Persian Poet by the name of Ahlī Shirazi (d. 1535), refers to the use of the ḡalyān, which means water pipe. Therefore hookah use can be dated back to as least Shah Tahmasp I time.
Abu’l-Fath Gilani is credited with bringing the hookah (ḡalyān) into India. However, we should mention that there is no mention of an actual waterpipe until sometime during the 1560s. It is also believed that the tobacco didn’t reach Persia until sometime during the 1600s, when the Europeans introduced it to both Persia and India. It’s likely some other substance was being smoked using another method prior to that.
Following the use of tobacco in these regions, Hakim Abu’l-Fath Gilan who was from a northern Persia province called Gilan, decided to move to move to Hamarastan where eventually he became a physician serving the Mughal court. It was here that he came up with a better way for them to smoke their tobacco.
He devised a device where the smoke would pass through water and be cooled, which became known as the ḡalyān. Indian nobleman really liked this waterpipe and so it’s popularity continued to grow. It actually became a status symbol for Indian gentry and aristocracy.
Turkish Hookah History
The original hookah came from India. In its most primitive form it was made from a coconut shell. Its popularity spread to Iran, then through the rest of the Arab world, ending its revolution in Turkey. This is where you will find one of the oldest traditions that is deeply rooted. It would be hundreds of years before any change in style would again be seen.
The hookah gained popularity in the coffee shops around the time of Murad the IV (623-40). Only tobaccos imported from Iran were used along with oak charcoal. The waterpipe found its way to Anatolia, Turkey during the 17th century.
By the 19th century the hookah was even very popular with elite women who wanted to be photographed using a hookah. Cigarettes did lead to a decline in hookah use, but there was a special kind of smoker that stayed true to the hookah.
The Hookah Today
Today hookah smoking is extremely popular in the United States, Canada and Europe. It has become especially popular among university/college students. The number of Westerners using hookahs continues to grow as users experiment with the huge variety of flavored tobaccos and herbal shishas and enjoy the social environment associated with hookah smoking.